Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Gounod - Faust|
Actors: Nicolai Ghiaurov, Alfredo Kraus, Renata Scotto, Anna Di Stasio, Lorenzo Saccomani
Genres: Indie & Art House, Musicals & Performing Arts
TODD KAY | 08/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Some allowances must be made in consideration of the DVD release of this 35-year-old Japanese television broadcast. The burned-in Japanese subtitles cannot be gotten rid of, although they become less distracting when those of one's own language are superimposed over them. Sound is mono, albeit good mono -- a bit dry and unatmospheric, but firm, absent distortion, and with a fine equilibrium between voices and orchestra having been achieved. You will have no trouble hearing everything you want to hear, at every point. Stage lighting levels were too low to begin with, and this conspires with age-related softness and color fade (and weak black levels) to create a pervasive murkiness. To call the production minimalist would be to credit it with a conceptual dimension it does not have; this is just rudimentary, no-frills staging. Props and decoration are scarce, and there is little evidence of the ordering intelligence of a strong director guiding the singers' movements and gestures, which are well-schooled but stock; the Japanese audience may not have seen them many times before, but you have. There are also things here that do not profit at all from a close-up format: the rubbery-appearing mask on Faust's face in the opening scene suggests advanced age less than it suggests advanced von Recklinghausen's disease.
For anyone with the slightest interest in this opera, all of the above together should give less than a moment's pause; this is an opportunity to hear and see Renata Scotto, Alfredo Kraus, and Nicolai Ghiaurov in spectacular, defining form. Though Scotto's role assumptions were never without interest, she sometimes (especially in the decade after this was taped) taxed her lyric instrument by taking on heavy assignments in which her success was dependent upon artistry and sheer determination. What a pleasure it is to hear her here, reveling in a role that could have been written with her voice in mind. Her Marguerite is a creation of immense charm, feminine grace, and (for all her shyness and naivete) deceptive strength of will. The soprano is in her freshest, loveliest voice -- her soft singing is ravishing enough to rival Caballé's -- and she has the control over it to illuminate each facet of a portrayal that is carefully considered yet never overtly calculated. I have heard Scotto often, from earlier and later than this, in a wide range of repertoire; I am unaware of her having done anything better. Kraus, the tenor whom she calls her "brother," owing to their parallel careers, long friendship, musical compatibility, and frequent joint appearances, matches her elegant address, if not her entire expressive spectrum. His singing has a beguiling ease and fluency, and when he must ascend to the top of his range, he surprises with reserves of power and ring. Ghiaurov gives the impression of having the time of his life. The great basso is not always as musically attentive as his partners (some rhythmic niceties are simply flattened with that Ghiaurovian black velvet carpet), and we are put on notice fairly early that whatever subtlety he may have had in his arsenal will not be wasted on the role of Mefistofeles. But this is a role that can take some bombast, and he has a wicked wit to go with the blockbuster strength. He also has, let it be said, as beautiful a lower male voice as emerged in the postwar era, and here he deploys it with magnificent color and security. This is, along with the Karajan Verdi Requiem, the only video recording I have seen that I would want to show to someone coming new to Ghiaurov -- he has more voice and is a more physically nimble performer here than one encounters on several DVDs from the 1980s (the Scala ERNANI, the Met DON CARLO, the San Francisco BOHEME, etc.), impressive though he was even in decline. He made two audio recordings of Gounod's devil, one earlier and one later than this; from 1973 we are treated to a happy synthesis of the best qualities of both.
One can imagine the Valentin, Lorenzo Saccomani, generating more excitement if he hit the scene today than he apparently did at the time, when solid Italian (and Italianate) baritones were thicker on the ground. He has to perform alongside some magnetic colleagues here, but his singing is rich and mostly satisfying, marred only by a tendency early on to reinforce notes singly when one longs to hear him bind them together into long-breathed phrases. As he does not seem to have a deficient breath line, this apparent eccentricity for the sake of emphasis is a bit frustrating. He is much improved in his second/final appearance, and the death scene is done with poise. There are also a good Siebel (Milena Dal Piva) and a superb Marthe (Anna di Stasio, who does so well with her part of the Garden Scene that you may wish she had more to do).
The unheralded conductor Paul Ethuin seems on the evidence here to have been a fine musician; his reading is smartly paced, long on dash and sweep, where opportunity for the latter arises (as in that stirring passage after the soldiers successfully repel Mefistofeles). He gets consistently fine work from diligent Japanese forces (the NHK Symphony Orchestra and NHK Italian Opera Chorus). The Walpurgis ballet sequence is included. The Tokyo audience challenges some cultural stereotypes by being anything but quiet and reserved (pace Ms. Scotto's memory). Western opera may have been a relatively new phenomenon to them, but they certainly show an instinct for recognizing great singing, and show only slightly more restraint and patience than their Milan or New York brethren when it comes to demonstrating their appreciation. Their protracted ovation for Alfredo Kraus's performance of "Salut! demeure chaste et pure" begins as soon as he closes his mouth, all but burying the orchestral postlude -- I would be grumbling at this if it happened in the house today, but in these circumstances it is rather heartwarming.
Scotto discusses her appearances in Japan (as Lucia, Marguerite, and Violetta; she makes some trenchant comments on those three heroines), her colleagues, the bad taste of modern productions, and her post-retirement directorial career in a 37-minute bonus interview so recent that interviewer Ernest Gilbert is able to reference something she said when hosting a Met Opera quiz in April 2007.
At some point, a new big-house FAUST with contemporary stars will surely emerge on DVD (there have been reports of one from the Alagna/Levine Met run of a recent season). It will have better sound and picture, more elaborate camerawork, and probably more orchestral sheen. It may be note-complete (there are a few cuts in Marguerite's music here), and for good or ill, the staging will have a stronger "Concept." But it is unlikely to be as memorable or as well performed as this one, by artists who believe so strongly in the work and know precisely where its effects lie; nor is it as likely to make one consider the opera's merits anew. Maybe it is true that in the best of all possible worlds, Gounod's music would be informed by a certain idiomatic Gallic style that all but vanished in the twentieth century (you have to go back to the earliest days of sound recording to hear what I'm getting at), and there is nary a native of France to be found on the stage or in the pit here. But this cast's sincerity, commitment, musicianship, theatrical flair and assurance are unlikely to leave lovers of great operatic performance wanting more. VAI's DVD is a model of how to release an artistically desirable but technically less than state-of-the-art performance, and everyone involved in both the 1973 and the 2007 portions of the undertaking has my commendation and gratitude."
A DEVIL OF A PERFORMANCE
Charles D. novak | minneapolis, minnesota USA | 08/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For a blast from the past, you can't beat the cast of this performance. Alfredo Kraus is at his creamy sounding best. Nicolai Ghiaurov brings down the house as Mesphistopheles and Renata Scotto is in beautiful voice milking all her applause down to the last clap. I wish the conductor, Paul Ethuin whipped up a little more zest and energy from the orchestra. A few of his tempos are painstakingly slow especially in the garden scene of Act Two. The sound quality from 1973 is first rate for its time and more then passable by today's standards. The video colors are slightly faded and grainy. My biggest problem was the subtitles. You can choose four languages that are superimposed on the Japanese characters which you cannot delete completely. Consequently it makes the bottom of the screen look like garbage. It was nice to see the Walpurgis Night scene done with all the ballet intact. The dancers are enthusiastic. The sets are of Wal Mart quality with most of the action taking place on a large tree stump. If you're going to buy this DVD it's because of KRAUS-SCOTTO-GHIAUROV. They don't make singers like them anymore!"
J. Buentello | MTY, MEX | 11/08/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I am really pleased with this DVD, I bought it because of Alfredo Kraus, but I think that the baritone Nicolai Ghiaurov is the Star in this Opera he is so amazing, the sound of the DVD is acceptable, the video is kind a dark but we gotta understand that is kind a old the recording. Overall I think that is a very good."
Top rate performance; problematic screen views.
A. F. S. Mui | HK | 09/21/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The problem, and the only problem, with this DVD is the Japanese subtitles.
Being able to read some Japanese, however, relieves a good deal of the otherwise eye sore problem.
Apart from that, the performance itself was truly 'great'. The three leading roles were tackled with the greatest artistic finesse by Kraus in the title role, Ghiaurov as the devil, and Scotto as the lady charming Margaret.
I fully agree that the three singers were in their prime in this performance. Particularly with Alfredo Kraus, whom you'd be unlikely to get many other performances either on CD or DVD that were caught in his prime period.
Kraus in his prime was some thing that no true opera lover could afford to miss. This is a tenor with a beautiful voice, great technique, wonderful musicality, and mesmerising stage presence. The NHK really did a great job in preserving the few ultra fine performances by this aristocrat of tenors in his prime.